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When the musician Sting was asked by Yoga Journal about his vision for growing older, he replied, "I want to get old gracefully. I want to have good posture, I want to be healthy, and I want to be an example to my children."
Posture was at the top of his list for graceful aging, and with good reason. Good posture not only helps you maintain a healthy spine and avoid injuries, but there's even evidence that it can improve your mood.
A healthy spine has three natural curves that make an elongated "S" shape: forward at the neck, backward at the upper back and forward again at the lower back.
When you're standing with good posture, "your head is on top of your body in alignment with your spine — not leaning forward or right or left," says Laura Deon, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Rush University Medical Center. "Your shoulders are down and back, hips and knees are in a neutral position with feet shoulder width apart, and your body weight is distributed evenly."
Deon suggests visualizing an invisible string that extends from your tailbone up your spine and out the top of your head.
"You want the string to be straight at all times, drawing you up toward the sky with your hips, shoulders and head all aligned," she says. Your abdomen should be pulled in. Knees should be soft, not locked. And you should be looking straight ahead, not down.
The string visual applies when you're sitting, too. "Your back should be straight, shoulders back and your bottom touching the back of the chair," Deon says. "Your knees are bent at a right angle and both feet are on the floor."
Here, she offers five reasons why you should stand — and sit — tall:
Aligning your spine means that you're using your muscles properly, which reduces stress on your bones and joints, Deon says. This decreases abnormal wear and tear that, over time, can lead to osteoarthritis as well as lingering aches and pains. Joints in your neck, shoulders, low back and hips are some of the most vulnerable.
If your posture hasn't been good, correcting it might feel uncomfortable for a few weeks, but stick with the effort.
Your core muscles — the muscles in your back, hips, abdomen and pelvic floor — work together to stabilize your spine and provide a foundation for your body's movement.
Pilates and yoga classes provide excellent core-strengthening exercises, Deon says. "But standing and sitting properly are probably the best things you can do to activate your core. It's actually much harder work than you think!"
Your lungs are made of soft tissue, so the more space you open up for them in your chest by standing tall and pulling your shoulders back, the more they'll be able to expand and allow you to breathe deeply.
To avoid "text neck," practice looking down at your phone with your eyes alone, not bending your neck.
Consistently good posture prevents your spine from becoming fixed in an abnormal position.
"If your usual posture is to keep your head down and your shoulders rolled forward, that can actually change the way your spine grows," Deon explains. "And after many years, it's extremely hard to reverse — all the more reason to work on bad habits starting right now."
Research investigating the connection between posture and emotion has shown that good posture can actually make you feel better.
Posture affects our emotions and thoughts, and vice versa. Slouching makes it easier to think negative thoughts, while sitting or standing in a strong, upright position encourages empowering thoughts. Standing tall instead of scrunching up also means that you occupy more space and radiate more energy to others, which in turn can make you feel more confident.
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